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Musings on mediocrity: Considering fantasy football

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There are a lot of reasons that the NFL has become the preeminent league in American professional sports. The telegenic nature of the game, the strength of the marketing machine, the undeniably impressive on-field athleticism – all key components to the game’s massive success.

But one of the very biggest has to be the proliferation of fantasy football.

As we approach the season’s kickoff, thousands of fantasy football leagues are the in process of holding their drafts. Millions of people are making their selections, deciding which combination of players gives them the best chance of coming out on top and winning money, trophies and/or bragging rights.

There’s an entire industry built around giving advice to fantasy football players. There are experts out there who spend countless hours breaking down statistics and trying to project which players are going to have big years and which ones are going to regress. They’ll tell you why you should select a player and when.

I am not one of those experts.

What I am is someone who has played fantasy football regularly for nearly two decades. I’ve won a championship or two along the way. I’ve also finished dead last once or twice. Mostly, I’ve fallen somewhere in-between. And since I’ve lived my fantasy life as part of that vast middle class, I thought it might be interesting to pass along a few bits of wisdom that I’ve picked up along the way.

Do an auction draft. This is actually a big one for me. I have always preferred the auction format to the standard snake draft, though the latter is almost certainly the easier one. However, while the snake draft has its benefits, there’s nothing like the visceral excitement of the auction draft. In an auction, every single player is in play for every member of the league (unless you’re in a keeper or a dynasty league, but that’s a whole different thing). If you really want a David Johnson or Antonio Brown on your team, you can have him – just as long as you’re willing to pay.

There’s an added element of strategy to the auction draft that just isn’t there otherwise. Whether you’re looking for early bargains or enforcing value by driving up prices or getting into bidding wars and wildly overspending, auction drafts are freewheeling experiences that, to my mind, will always be the far superior option.

Of course, it all boils down to what works best for you – every league has its own quirks, personality and history. All I can say is that having done both – and succeeded to roughly the same extent with both – I’m all about the auction.

Stick to a strategy. Sounds like common sense, but it’s stunning how easy it is to abandon a prepared plan of action within minutes of a draft’s beginnings. There are any number of feasible ways to win a fantasy football league. You can have a specific allocation of assets in mind – spend highly on one position, save money on another. You can go with a stars-and-scrubs scheme, landing a core of high-priced talent and surround them with late-round bargain flyers. You can aim for B-grades across the board.

Any of these strategies can potentially work, but only if you stay true to them. You can’t go in with one plan and then chuck it on a whim. Well, you CAN, but don’t expect to come out of it with a championship if you can’t stay focused on your plan for more than 15 minutes.

A notable corollary to this one: know the rules. Different leagues have different rules, different scoring systems, different lineup and roster requirements. Again, it sounds like common sense, but there are plenty of folks out there who just don’t pay attention and wind up getting burned because of it.

(It’s here that I will note my affinity for PPR scoring. Points per reception are a wonderful equalizing tool and lead to more scoring overall – never a bad thing. I’m in the 0.5 PPR camp; a whole point for a catch seemed a bit much. But that half-point has proven to be just the thing in my league, but as always, your mileage may vary.)

Above all, have fun. There are always going to be people who take this stuff WAY too seriously. If your league doesn’t have at least one of those people, congratulations – it’s you. I know there are leagues out there with big-money payouts and ruinous penalties for last place, but I’m not writing for them. Those people aren’t even a little interested in what I have to say.

No, this is for the casual player, someone looking to enjoy the experience. Winning is great and a great goal, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Embrace goofy traditions and idiotic bad-pun team names and all-in-good-fun trash talk. Mocking your friends for their ludicrous moves is part of the joy. Adopting a cutthroat attitude sucks the fun out of it all. It’s not called “grim reality football” – unless it means losing your house or getting a terrible tattoo, try not to take it too seriously.

(That said, I’m coming for you, Bonzey.)

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Bear in mind, all of this "wisdom" is coming from a guy who has finished sixth, third, first, 10th and second over the last five seasons and insists on having former Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski on his team (the Polish Cannon has spent at least part of the season on every single fantasy football team I’ve had in the 21st century – the fact that he’s currently in a position battle to be Seattle’s kicker has me tearing out my hair, though it seems impossible that the obvious Seabass/Seahawks synergy won’t come to pass). That said, I’ve always had a positive experience, so do with that what you will.

Good luck with your fantasy season. I hope the ball bounces your way. Myself? My draft – auction, of course – is taking place not long after this story is published. My team might be great. It might be terrible. Either way, I’m going to enjoy myself. You should try to do the same.

(A version of this story has appeared previously in The Maine Edge.)

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